Game #29: A birthday present courtesy of Georgiev, Panarin and Rangers Vegas style and smile

AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

Okay. So I didn’t make it a secret that it was my birthday. Believe it or not, I blew out 43 candles (not literally). I don’t know where all the time has gone. It’s astonishing what you can remember long-term as you get older. Forget about what you can’t. The special moments stand out.

I knew I wouldn’t see a second of tonight’s game in Vegas. How I wish I was since it turned into a very satisfying and gratifying Rangers 5-0 win over the Golden Knights. The first time they’ve been shutout since last February. T-Mobile Arena is a great home ice advantage for their third-year franchise. The fans are into it and they certainly put on a great show.

While other fans don’t always like how over the top it is due to the mascot, drummers, theatrics, dancers and whoever they invite to ring that cool sounding horn, I find it entertaining. They’re making it fun for everyone. I’ve heard rave reviews about Vegas. Think whatever you want.

What I’ll say is after enjoying a nice quiet Japanese birthday dinner with our family, I hungout with my brother and some friends. It was fun. We shared a few laughs watching bad football and talking pathetic Knicks basketball while wondering about the hot stove baseball winter meetings. Plus a small cupcake courtesy of our friend Jon’s future Mom of his first baby. It’s due by the end of December. Maybe it’ll even be born on Da Big Man’s birthday! My forever friend Brian. Or as we know him as Mr. Buffalo. 😀

Being that I only saw the first goal from the Christmas gift of Artemi Panarin that keeps on giving (goal and assist), that was aesthetically pleasing. Especially since fans on NYR Twitter were going Gaga over Alexandar Georgiev. In his third straight start, he was fantastic. Georgiev stopped all 17 Vegas shots in the first period on his way to his second shutout over the last four outings. He made 38 saves altogether to improve the Rangers to 9-1 following a defeat. Very impressive for a young team.

Here’s more. In a game they were outshot 38-25 and out-attempted 71-39, it didn’t matter due to Georgiev and opportunistic scoring from the boys. I only have one question. If David Quinn stuck with Georgiev after the tough 2-1 home loss against Montreal, what will he decide for Tuesday night at Staples Center against the Kings? I wouldn’t want to be a fly on Henrik Lundqvist’s wall right now. He’s not the starter at the moment. For now, that belongs to the emerging 23-year old Georgie.

I’m not going to analyze it any further. It’s a coaching decision. There are three more games out West including the Kings, Sharks and Coyotes. One more win and they earn at least a split like I thought.

As for the win, let’s just say they got the job done and leave it at that. Was it perfect? From the looks of the highlights and game sheet, no. They also lost 34 of 56 face-offs and took not one, but two delay of game minor penalties for clearing the puck over the glass. That btw was two experienced leaders in Marc Staal and Mika Zibanejad. They did contribute offensively. So, there’s that.

There’s also this. The Rangers put five pucks past Malcolm Subban, who again was in net for Marc-Andre Fleury. Condolences go out to him and his family on the passing of his Dad. He’s one of the classiest players this league still has. A future Hall of Famer like Lundqvist, who again had a close view of the action from the bench.

In the first, they got superior goaltending from a red hot Georgiev, who denied the Golden Knights on point-blank chances. He is very good down low and uses his athleticism well. He remains very calm no matter what happens. Look at the comeback in Montreal for proof. He was bad and recovered to make key stops to give his team a chance. That takes extreme focus.

While they got big early saves from the second-year netminder, the Rangers struck twice within 14 seconds to stun the Golden Knights. The first play was splendid. It was Staal taking a Tony DeAngelo feed and making a perfect pass for a cutting Panarin, who did the rest by firing home his team-leading 14th at 11:03. He’s only gone seven games without a point. There would be no repeat of Friday.

On the next shift, Ryan Strome reemerged when he received a Ryan Lindgren pass down low and set up the previously snake bit Chris Kreider for his seventh at 11:17. That had to feel good. The goal snapped a six-game goal drought. It was also his first point since scoring against Minnesota on 11/25. For the season, Kreider is 7-7-14 in 29 games. There’s still enough time for him to turn it around. He’s worked hard every game. I’m happy he got one. Especially on my birthday. I love what he brings.

Following a period they were opportunistic in due to Georgiev, they took advantage of a Ryan Reaves hi-sticking double minor. On the second part, Adam Fox passed for Strome, who did some more work by skating into space and finding Jacob Trouba for a huge power play goal that made it 3-0. Strome had cooled off recently. But it was his first two point game (two assists) since the Montreal comeback on 11/23. The puck hasn’t gone in for him over the last 11 including Sunday night, but he’s not a high volume shooter. His last goal came in Florida on 11/16. He still has tallied eight assists over that span.

The interesting thing about Strome is he’s a restricted free agent next summer. He currently makes $3.1 million. Based on how well he’s produced thus far where Strome currently has 26 points (6-20-26) in 29 contests, he’s making a strong case to stay. But at what cost? The Rangers can’t afford to overpay him. If he is willing to take between $4.5 to $5 million AAV over say three years, I say do it. But it will all depend on the next two months. It’ll be a hard decision. What will his value be before the trade deadline? Stay tuned.

The Rangers continued to make the most of their opportunities. It was 3:18 later when Trouba made a great pass to set up Jesper Fast for his fourth at 10:32 to go ahead 4-0 in the second period. Brady Skjei recorded a secondary assist. He’s quietly putting up points since being reunited with Trouba. That’s where he has to be regardless of his defensive shortcomings. Trouba is the rock solid, tough physical partner Skjei needs to play with.

A Staal delay of game minor was cancelled out by a Shea Theodore slashing minor ten seconds into a Vegas power play. That’s how you kill any hopes of a comeback. Georgiev still had to stop 15 shots in the period to give him 32 through 40 minutes.

The Golden Knights lost rookie Cody Glass to an injury during the second. Hopefully, it’s not too serious. He’s a gifted young player with a bright future. I wonder if sacrificing Nick Suzuki in the Max Pacioretty deal that included Tomas Tatar to Montreal is going to work out for Vegas. Pacioretty is putting together a good season. He’s got 10 goals and 26 points in 32 games so far. It’s working out well for the Habs. Tatar has 25 points (9-16-25) and Suzuki is 6-9-15 in his rookie year.

In the third, Brendan Lemieux obliged respected Knights middleweight William Carrier in a scrap. They each got five minute majors for fighting. However, the Rangers were stingier than the first two periods by permitting only six Vegas shots. In fact, shots were dead even at 6-6.

One of those New York shots had the fortune to go in. On their final power play, Panarin worked the puck to Kaapo Kakko, who then got it to Zibanejad down low. He tried to center it for Kreider in front. Instead, he got a lucky bounce with the puck going off a Vegas player for his seventh of the season with 4:55 remaining. Since returning from a lower body injury, Zibanejad is 3-3-6 in seven games. That includes five points (2-3-5) in the last five. He’s heating up. For the season, he remains a point-per-game with 17 in 16 games.

On a night Georgiev became the first Blueshirt since Antti Raanta to record two shutouts over four starts, it wasn’t all positive. I noticed that Filip Chytil got dropped down to the fourth line, receiving only 10:15 of ice time. Brett Howden got moved up finishing with 15:37. One area of concern is that Chytil received no power play time. Eh. I prefer he does.

Meanwhile, Pavel Buchnevich went a fifth consecutive game without a point despite getting 15:12 including 2:12 of power play time. How can he get that much ice if he had only one shot and didn’t hit the game sheet? Mystifying. Buchnevich has one point (goal) over the last eight. He must perform better.

The Buchnevich issue is going to come to a head sooner or later. I see him for what he is. That’s all I’ll say for now. A future post could be coming.

All in all, it was a good night. A fun one too. A nice birthday present to go with sashimi dinner, nice cards and a piece of cake. 🙂

Battle Of 3 🌟

3rd 🌟 Jacob Trouba, Rangers (1-1-2 including power play goal, +1 in 25:03 including 2:07 PP, 3:36 shorthanded with 3 hits, 3 blocks and 2 takeaways)

2nd 🌟 Artemi Panarin, Rangers (13th of season plus 🍎 for 14th multi-point game of season, 36 points thru 29 games, what a player!)

1st 🌟 Alexandar Georgiev, Rangers (38 saves for 2nd shutout over last 4 starts)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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